., queer

Routes to Roots: Building a community in Vancouver with LGBTQ newcomers and refugees


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Our newest Love Intersections collaborator, the amazing Danny Ramadan, shares his experience coming to Vancouver as a queer Syrian refugee, and shares a new program he is spearheading with Qmunity (a queer resource centre in Vancouver), “Routes to Roots” – a drop in for LGBTQ newcomers and refugees.

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Imagine yourself as a tree; a beautiful, fully grown, tree that carries delicious fruits and spring flowers unmatchable to any other. Now, imagine a war on trees, those who want to cut that fruitful tree down, to burn it to ashes. Those who want to eradicate trees.

Like the hero of a story, the tree pulled itself out of the ground. It pulled up its own roots in a painful, unimaginable way, and managed to stand tall to escape that hateful land. It went through a lot of hardship, and traveled across many borders, until it finally found green, welcoming soil, and it decided to root itself there.

Like that tree, LGBTQ-identified refugees and newcomers had to uproot themselves from the soil of their home countries, seeking the promise of a bright future, escaping the fire of homophobia, and the axes of transphobia, in search of safety, security, and prosperity here in Canada.

But planting a tree in foreign soil is not easily done.

When I arrived in Vancouver among the very first LGBTQ-identified Syrian refugees, I was hit by a wave of happiness. I knew my future here would be bright, beautiful, and magical. I felt that I had finally found a place where I could be my true self, and represent who I am to the community at large, without fear of persecution, homophobia, or othering.

I didn’t realize, however, how much time and effort it would take for my roots to grow.

Integrating into a new country requires an equal effort from the newcomer themselves, to learn the traditions and the ways of the new culture, as well as the local community to welcome these newcomers and refugees, and support them as they go through this mesmerizing, yet challenging, transformation.

Building those roots and integrating into the Canadian community is a unique challenge for queer and trans refugees. While other refugees can rely on the local community native to their country of origin; LGBTQ-identified refugees and newcomers moved to escape that exact community back home, running away from homophobia and transphobia, and seeking freedom in Canada.

Queer and trans newcomers and refugees come across  challenges in finding solace engaging with their heterosexual compatriots in diaspora.

With this unique experience in our hands here at QMUNITY, we understood a distinctive need in this new and growing community: the need to integrate in an authentic and supportive environment.

That’s why QMUNITY is running its latest project: Routes to Roots!

Routes to Roots (R2R) is a drop-in group for queer and trans identified folks, from both the newcomer and refugee communities, as well as the local community.

The drop-in will act as a social hub to form a connection between those communities. It will include social games, hangouts, events, and fun nights together to create meaningful friendships within the local LGBTQ community, and the newcomers and refugees community. The hope is that we will be able to help the newcomers and refugees feel that sense of belonging that many of them need so desperately.

We aspire to have each drop-in facilitated in two languages: English and another language.

Our Kick-Off meeting is Thursday, the 5th of May, 2016 from 6 pm to 9 pm. We will be meeting in QMUNITY’s main office (1170 Bute Street). This drop-in is unique, as it will have a space for the newcomer and refugee folks to let us know what kind of social activities they would like to see. We hope that through this drop-in, we will be able to focus our services to provide solutions reflecting the challenges faced by this community.

During this month’s drop-in, facilitated in both English and Arabic, we will be collaging, playing social games, and getting to know each other for three hours. The space is located on the second level of the building, and attendees should be aware that there is a flight of 23 stairs to reach the office.

Depending on the season, we hope to provide a variety of activities: in summer time, we may go biking, hiking, or go to the beach together; in the winter season, we may go to the Aquarium, or to the Vancouver Public Library.

The program will also provide a unique opportunity for the local community of queer and trans people of colour, as it will be a meaningful space for them to integrate with the newcomers and refugees, and connect with them on matters of race, sexuality, and being settlers in the land of Canada.

Integration into a new community is hard, like planting a tree in foreign soil; I know that first hand. But here at QMUNITY, we hope that we will be able to provide a nourishing ground for these fruitful trees to grow and flourish.

Do you have questions? Get in touch with Danny and he will be here to answer them all: volunteers@qmunity.ca

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